Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Article by Wayne Visser

Written for The Guardian.

Web 2.0 is not just about sharing photos on Facebook. It is a new mindset focused on collective intelligence and co-creation.

Web 2.0, or the ability to share and manipulate information online through user collaboration, has had a disruptive effect on business. Customers now expect to participate in the corporate world, and place a greater value on transparency in return.

This new environment, termed “wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, is based on four principles: openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. Here are the top 10 ways that web 2.0 technologies and digital cultures will impact on business, driving them towards more sustainable behaviour during the next decade.

1. Net value footprinting

Business has evolved over the past two decades from being highly opaque to gradually embracing more transparent practices. This has been a result of regulation, such as the Toxic Release Inventory in the US, which requires thousands of American companies to report their use of more than 650 toxic chemicals, and voluntary efforts including the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability guidelines.

But in a web 2.0 world, companies are expected to measure and disclose their impact across the entire lifecycle of their products. This process of quantifying business’s economic, social and environmental costs to society is sometimes called full-cost accounting. I call it “net value footprinting”. Good examples of this approach include Puma’s environmental profit and loss statement and the research carried out by Global Footprint Network.

2. Forensic impact analysis

While progressive companies are steadily improving their transparency, there will also be millions of irresponsible companies trying to fly under the radar of regulation and public scrutiny, running polluting operations that expolot cheap labour and abuse human rights.

These rogue businesses can now be caught and exposed through the emerging practice of forensic impact analysis. This will happen through a combination of traceability technology (which finds the electronic footprints left by all businesses in the supply chain), forensic substance analysis (which can identify the source of fibres, chemicals and other product components) and vigilant activists and consumers who capture malpractices using photographs, videos and audio recordings leaked via social media.

This approach has been pioneered in the food industry, where reputable businesses use barcodes to monitor and qualify every stage of their production process. Tracking techniques were also used to expose Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste along the Ivory Coast.

3. Crowdsourcing

Companies from the pre-digital age still believe that focus groups, public meetings, stakeholder panels and the occasional online or instore survey are adequate for taking the pulse of their customers and investors. At the same time, they are often distrustful of ideas suggested outside their organisations.

By contrast, web 2.0 savvy companies realise that the world has moved into an era of crowdsourcing. Future businesses will use filtered, or expert, crowds to monitor their reputation, get feedback on sustainable innovations and ask for help in solving difficult dilemmas. For example, Sony’s Open Planet Ideas and FutureScapes campaigns aimed to generate new sustainable technology ideas.

4. Disruptive partnerships

Companies have had a decade to get used to the idea of cross-sector partnerships, which have been heavily promoted through the United Nations and given a boost through inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals. But now business is expected to get into more challenging partnerships that disrupt the status quo. One example is Rio Tinto working with the World Conservation Union to reduce the impact on biodiversity.

These relationships also play out online. Greenpeace used social media very effectively to campaign against Nestle’s Kit Kat brand, after finding an Indonesian supplier was clearing tropical rainforest to grow palm oil. A year later the campaign group praised Nestle for its no deforestation commitment through its challenging partnership with TFT, a sustainable forestry NGO.

5. Open sourcing

One of the biggest changes in the society over the past 10 years has been the explosion of social media. This revolution goes beyond sharing our holiday photos on Facebook or micro-blogging the minutiae of our lives on Twitter. The more fundamental innovation is a shift in thinking and practice towards open sourcing, which at its heart is about the idea of co-creation.

This has influenced good business practices. After a decade under siege – with big pharma being accused of overpricing patented brands and blocking access to cheaper, generic and often life-saving drugs – GlaxoSmithKline committed to put chemical processes that it has intellectual property rights over that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a patent pool so they can be explored by other researchers. Similarly, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk decided last year to open up all its patents “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

6. Wiki-ratings

A common feature of web 2.0 design is that it allows users to express an opinion on content, from the ubiquitous “like” button on Facebook to the fresh-red versus rotten-green tomato movie rating system on rottentomatoes.com. When it comes to business, wiki-based platforms allow the public to rate and comment in detail on the economic, governance, social and environmental performance of companies. One such platform is Wikirate, where I serve on the advisory board, which allows for real-time updating. Any ethical infringement – or a positive sustainability innovation – will be reflected almost immediately in the company’s rating. Other pioneering examples in the ratings space are GoodGuide, WeGreen, and Project Label.

7. Prototyping

In a web 2.0 world prototypes are launched early, as imperfect versions used solicit rapid user feedback in a process known as”beta-testing”. One way to bring about such rapid, open-source prototyping is through competitions.

The X-Prize describes itself as “bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” by offering multi-million dollar prizes in return for innovative ideas to tackle global problems. Another example is Virgin’s $25 million Earth Challenge to help design a “commercially viable design which results in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of the earth’s climate system”.

8. Smart mobbing

Web 2.0 technologies have spawned a new type of protest activity called smart mobbing. This means using real-time media and sharing platforms, such as text messages and social media status updates, to rapidly organise a crowd.

Viral text messaging in the Philippines helped to oust former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and the use of Twitter proved pivotal during the Arab spring uprisings in 2011. Smart mobs can also co-ordinate virtual activity, such as when the hacktivist group Anonymous encouraged its followers to launch cyber attacks against Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and other companies opposing Wikileaks in 2011.

Mission 4636, meanwhile, created a text-mapping emergency communications system after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In future, companies and governments will need to anticipate and respond to activist smart mobs as well as seed their own.

9. App farming

The war of the computing giants has turned into the battle of the apps, spawning a new generation of software applications focused on social and environmental solutions. Google Play lists more than 400 sustainability-related apps. The most popular is BlaBlaCar, which connects drivers with empty seats with people looking for a ride, allowing users to search the biggest European car-sharing community.

Common tools in this genre include ethical shopping guides, carbon footprint calculators and educational games. Businesses of the future will be judged on whether they can seed and grow farms of apps that provide solutions to the world’s most serious challenges.

10. Plug and play

Today’s smart technology detects its operating environment, installs whatever software is needed and begins operating without any action by the user. Rather than having to manually unplug or switch off household electrical devices to save energy, plug-and-play technology for the home automatically detects all idle devices and disables them remotely. Similar approaches apply to optimal energy-efficient heating and cooling of buildings, and low-carbon driving, which automatically chooses acceleration and cruise speeds that reduce emissions.

In future automatic product filters will match our preferences for fairtrade, organic, beauty without cruelty, or other ethical products. When shopping online, we will only see those items that match our preferences. In store, we will be alerted to products that meet our standards by automatically scanning barcodes through mobile devices.

The message is clear for business. Web 2.0 is not just about everybody being continuously online. Rather, it is a new business mindset that uses collective intelligence and co-creation to find solutions to our global challenges, and uses technology to achieve speed and scale in spreading innovation to the parts of the world with the most urgent unmet needs.

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Visser, W. (2015) Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business. The Guardian, 22 January 2015.

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Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business

Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business

Paper by Wayne Visser

What is Web 2.0 Really?

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as ‘web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, inter-operability, user-centred design and collaboration’. The term owes its origins to a 1999 article by IT consultant Darcy DiNucci, which challenged programmers to adapt to the spread of portable Web-ready devices. The concept was broadened out in 2005 by online media pioneer Tim O’Reilly, who gave contrasted Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 using examples: DoubleClick versus Google AdSense, Britannica Online versus Wikipedia, personal websites versus blogging, publishing versus participation, directories (taxonomy) versus tagging (folksonomy) and stickiness versus syndication, to mention but a few.

In 2006, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams showed how Web 2.0 was set to disrupt how markets operate and how businesses are organised. They called this new paradigm ‘wikinomics’, defining it as ‘the effects of extensive collaboration and user-participation on the marketplace and corporate world’.

Wikinomics, they said, is based on four principles:

1)   Openness, which includes not only open standards and content but also financial transparency and an open attitude towards external ideas and resources;

2)   Peering, which replaces hierarchical models with a more collaborative forum, for which the Linux operating system is a quintessential example;

3)   Sharing, which is a less proprietary approach to (among other things) products, intellectual property, bandwidth and scientific knowledge; and

4)   Acting globally, which involves embracing globalization and ignoring physical and geographical boundaries at both the corporate and individual level.

Another Web 2.0 building block is Chris Anderson’s concept of ‘The Long Tail’ – named after the area of a statistical distribution curve where it approaches (but never quite meets) the axis. Anderson’s breakthrough idea was that, in a Web 2.0 era, selling less to more people is big business. The Long Tail questions the conventional wisdom that says success is about generating ‘blockbusters’ and ‘superstars’ – those rare few products and services that become runaway bestsellers.

Anderson sums up his message by saying that:

1)   The Long Tail of available variety is longer than we think;

2)   It’s now within reach economically; and

3)   All those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market; and

4)   The Long Tail revolution has been made possible by the digital age, which has dramatically reduced the costs of customized production and niche distribution.

Taking Tapscott and Williams’ four principles (openness, peering, sharing and acting globally), plus another principle derived from Anderson’s ‘long tail’ concept (mass customization), let’s take a look at the future of business through a Web 2.0 lens …

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Visser, W. (2013) Ten Web 2.0 Trends Shaping the Future of Business, Kaleidoscope Futures Paper Series, No. 2.

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The Future of CSR

The Future of CSR

Towards Transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0

Paper by Wayne Visser

It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities – Josiah Charles Stamp

Abstract

This paper argues that CSR, as a business, governance and ethics system, has failed. This assumes that success or failure is measured in terms of the net impact (positive or negative) of business on society and the environment. The paper contends that a different kind of CSR is needed if we are to reverse the current direction of many of the world’s most pressing social, environmental and ethical trends. The first part of the paper reviews business’s historical progress over the Ages and Stages of CSR: moving through the Ages of Greed, Philanthropy, Marketing and Management, using defensive, charitable, promotional and strategic CSR approaches respectively. The second part of the paper examines the Three Curses of Modern CSR (incremental, peripheral and uneconomic), before exploring what CSR might look like in an emerging Age of Responsibility. This new CSR – called systemic or radical CSR, or CSR 2.0 – is based on five principles (creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity) and forms the basis for a new DNA model of responsible business, built around the four elements of value creation, good governance, societal contribution and environmental integrity.

Taking Stock on CSR

My starting point for any discussion on CSR – by which I mean corporate sustainability and responsibility, but choose whichever label you prefer (corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, business ethics) – my starting point is to admit that CSR has failed. The logic is simple and compelling. A doctor judges his/her success by whether the patient is getting better (healthier) or worse (sicker). Similarly, we should judge the success of CSR by whether our communities and ecosystems are getting better or worse. And while at the micro level – in terms of specific CSR projects and practices – we can show many improvements, at the macro level almost every indicator of our social, environmental and ethical health is in decline.

I am not alone in my assessment or conclusion. Paul Hawken stated in The Ecology of Commerce (1994) that ‘if every company on the planet were to adopt the best environmental practice of the “leading” companies, the world would still be moving toward sure degradation and collapse.’ Unfortunately, this is still true. Jeffrey Hollender, founder and CEO of Seventh Generation, agrees, saying: ‘I believe that the vast majority of companies fail to be “good” corporate citizens, Seventh Generation included. Most sustainability and corporate responsibility programs are about being less bad rather than good. They are about selective and compartmentalized “programs” rather than holistic and systemic change’ (Hollender & Breen, 2010).

In fact, there are no shortage of critics of CSR. Christian Aid (2004) issued a report called ‘Behind the Mask: The Real Face of CSR’, in which they argued that ‘CSR is a completely inadequate response to the sometimes devastating impact that multinational companies can have in an ever-more globalised world – and it is actually used to mask that impact.’ A more recent example is an article in the Wall Street Journal called ‘The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility’, which claims that ‘the idea that companies have a responsibility to act in the public interest and will profit from doing so is fundamentally flawed’ (Karnani, 2010). This is not the place to deconstruct these polemics. Suffice to say that they raise some of the same concerns I have and which I discuss in this paper …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.kaleidoscopefutures.com”]Page[/button] Kaleidoscope Futures (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Page[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2012) The Future of CSR: Towards Transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0, Kaleidoscope Futures Paper Series, No. 1.

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Open Sourcing Sustainability

Open Sourcing Sustainability:

Web 2.0 Meets CSR 2.0

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 9 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

CSR 2.0 responsiveness goes beyond traditional partnerships and CSO effectiveness; it is also about innovative ways to collaborate. I want to flag several Web 2.0 inspired experiments in responsiveness that are opening up sustainability and responsibility solutions to the public. One is a platform called the Eco-Patent Commons, which allows companies to share their intellectual property for the common good. The Commons was launched by WBCSD and covers issues like waste, pollution, global warming and energy. ‘The premise of the Commons,’ says Björn Stigson, president of the WBCSD, ‘is that the free sharing of these patents leads to new collaborations and innovation aimed at helping others become more eco-efficient and/or operate in a more sustainable way.’

The Eco-Patent Commons’ publicly searchable database already contains over one hundred eco-friendly patents from companies like Bosch, Dow, DuPont, Fuji Xerox, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Ricoh, Sony and Taisei. Xerox, for example, has eleven pledged patents that cover a process that cuts the time it takes to remove toxic waste from soil and water from years to months, as well as a patent that covers technology that makes magnetic refrigeration less harmful to the environment.

Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, believes that ‘innovation to address environmental issues will require both the application of technology as well as new models for sharing intellectual property among companies in different industries … In addition to enabling new players to engage in protecting the environment, the free exchange of valuable intellectual property will accelerate work on the next level of environmental challenges.’

Similarly, Donal O’Connell, Director of Intellectual Property for Nokia, thinks that ‘environmental issues have great potential to help us discover the next wave of innovation because they force us all to think differently about how we make, consume and recycle products.’ Nokia have pledged a patent designed to help companies safely re-use old mobile phones by transforming them into new products like digital cameras, data monitoring devices or other electronic items. ‘Recycling the computing power of mobile phones in this way could significantly increase the reuse of materials in the electronics industry’, concludes O’Connell.

Even more significant than the individual patents that have been added is the shift in thinking that this signals among some of the largest companies in the world. It is true none of them are exactly ‘giving away the family silver’ – they are not opening all their patents – but they are demonstrating responsiveness on a scale never seen before. They are recognising that the global problems we face are larger than whatever individual solutions can accomplish. If we are truly going to be effective in tackling our most intractable challenges, we will need the wisdom of crowds and the collective efforts of millions of entrepreneurs …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

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Visser, W. (2012) Open Sourcing Sustainability: Web 2.0 Meets CSR 2.0, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 3 April 2012.

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What Can Web 2.0 Teach Us About CSR?

What Can Web 2.0 Teach Us About CSR?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 6 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

By May 2008, it was clear to me that the evolutionary concept of Web 2.0 held many lessons for CSR. At the time, I declared: ‘The field of what is variously known as CSR, sustainability, corporate citizenship and business ethics is ushering in a new era in the relationship between business and society. Simply put, we are shifting from the old concept of CSR – the classic notion of “Corporate Social Responsibility”, which I call CSR 1.0 – to a new, integrated conception – CSR 2.0, which can be more accurately labelled “Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility”.’

The allusion to Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is no coincidence. The transformation of the internet through the emergence of social media networks, user-generated content and open source approaches is a fitting metaphor for the changes business is experiencing as it begins to redefine its role in society. Let’s look at some of the similarities.

Web 1.0

  • A flat world just beginning to connect itself and finding a new medium to push out information and plug advertising.
  • Saw the rise to prominence of innovators like Netscape, but these were quickly out-muscled by giants like Microsoft with its Internet Explorer.
  • Focused largely on the standardised hardware and software of the PC as its delivery platform, rather than multi-level applications.

CSR 1.0

  • A vehicle for companies to establish relationships with communities, channel philanthropic contributions and manage their image.
  • Included many start-up pioneers like Traidcraft, but has ultimately turned into a product for large multinationals like Wal-Mart.
  • Travelled down the road of “one size fits all” standardisation, through codes, standards and guidelines to shape its offering.

Web 2.0

  • Being defined by watchwords like “collective intelligence”, “collaborative networks” and “user participation”.
  • Tools include social media, knowledge syndication and beta testing.
  • Is as much a state of being as a technical advance – it is a new philosophy or way of seeing the world differently.

CSR 2.0

  • Being defined by “global commons”, “innovative partnerships” and “stakeholder involvement”.
  • Mechanisms include diverse stakeholder panels, real-time transparent reporting and new-wave social entrepreneurship.
  • Is recognising a shift in power from centralised to decentralised; a change in scale from few and big to many and small; and a change in application from single and exclusive to multiple and shared.

So what will some of these shifts look like? In my view, the shifts will happen at two levels. At a macro-level, there will be a change in CSR’s ontological assumptions or ways of seeing the world. At a micro-level, there will be a change in CSR’s methodological practices or ways of being in the world.

Macro Shifts

The macro-level changes can be described as follows: Paternalistic relationships between companies and the community based on philanthropy will give way to more equal partnerships. Defensive, minimalist responses to social and environmental issues are replaced with proactive strategies and investment in growing responsibility markets, such as clean technology. Reputation-conscious public-relations approaches to CSR are no longer credible and so companies are judged on actual social, environmental and ethical performance (are things getting better on the ground in absolute, cumulative terms?) …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) What Can Web 2.0 Teach Us About CSR? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 10 November 2011.

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